Seasonal physiology and growth of bottomland oaks of differing planting stocks in afforestation sites on the U.S. Gulf Coastal Plain
Hurricane Katrina caused large losses of bottomland hardwood forests on the Gulf Coastal Plain. Heavy‐seeded species such as oaks ( Quercus ) generally require direct planting for restoration after such losses. However, evaluating the performance of various oak planting stocks using biometric data alone can be challenging due to their slow juvenile growth and belowground carbon allocation. Our study goals were to evaluate physiological parameters including photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, and water‐use efficiency (WUE) and their correlation with annual height growth to determine differences in functional performance and drought tolerance between seedling types and whether physiology can predict height growth. Monthly growing season gas exchange measurements were made on two oak species ( Quercus texana and Quercus shumardii ) and three planting stocks (bare root, conventional containerized, large containerized [LC]) planted on two sites in coastal Mississippi. We found that photosynthesis decreased throughout the growing season while stomatal conductances increased leading to decreasing WUEs in all seedling types. Physiological parameters differed across planting stocks but not species. Particularly, LC seedlings exhibited greater WUEs and sensitivity to vapor pressure deficit (VPD) suggesting increased moisture stress compared with other planting stocks. Across seedling types, photosynthesis, stomatal sensitivity to VPD, and seasonal changes in intrinsic WUE measured in year one of the study were significantly correlated with year two, but not year one height growth, suggesting belowground allocation of carbon during the first growing season. In total, these results highlight the use of physiological measurements in selecting successful planting stocks for various site conditions.
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